After a turbulent relationship with his siblings that culminated in his abduction and exile, Yosef climbed his way from the gutter to Egyptian aristocracy.

Years later, his brothers came to Egypt to avoid a famine back home, and Yosef entrapped them in a drawn-out ruse.

Instead of identifying himself, he role-played as a meticulous bureaucrat. Noticing that Binyamin was absent, he apprehended and jailed Shimon until they returned with Binyamin, and then had his personal effects planted on Binyamin to make him look like a thief.

The story is a classic, albeit protracted, and theatrical. Why did Yosef act so strangely?

R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch perceptively notes that Yosef’s goal must have always been to bring his family back together because if he’d wanted to forget his family, then when his brothers came to Egypt, he could have just let them be. They’d return to Israel none the wiser!

But to reunite the family, Yosef had several major obstacles to overcome. If he ever went home or wrote back to reforge the connection, it would not bring the family together; it would irreparably tear it apart. By exposing to Yakov the murderous cover-up and human trafficking perpetrated by his brothers, Yakov might regain a long lost son, but he’d undoubtedly lose the rest.

The only way to make it right would be for things to be different. The brothers would need to see that Yosef had changed, and Yosef would need to know that they had changed, and he has cause for concern.

Where was Binyamin? Had the same thing happened to Rachel’s last son?

Judah, who had once instigated Yosef’s abduction, would now take responsibility and endanger himself to protect Binyamin. Coupled with their admission of guilt and repentance – מַה־נֹּאמַר לַאדֹנִי מַה־נְּדַבֵּר וּמַה־נִּצְטַדָּק / אֲבָל אֲשֵׁמִים אֲנַחְנוּ עַל־אָחִינוּ – they had accomplished something remarkable – our very first encounter with teshuva in Jewish history.

Seeing how Yehuda courageously took responsibility for his family and stood up to take the blame, Yosef knew that they were not the reckless and impulsive young men they had been all those years ago. Seeing that they had grown, he revealed himself to them.

Once, they had feared Yosef’s ambition, believing he wanted them to serve him. Now Yosef had power over them; he could show that he didn’t want to take anything from them; he wanted to help them!

With all the theatrics, the brothers could learn more about each other than they ever could have with words, and it was the one way to tease out the insights that could bring their family together once more.

R’ Jonathan Sacks teaches that the stories of Bereishis are about families that could not learn to live together – it is one acrimonious falling out after another. But now there is a new paradigm – teshuva and forgiveness. Forgiveness brings Yakov’s fragmented family back together and forms the foundation of the Jewish people.

The Midrash teaches that when a person arrives in Heaven, he is put on trial to account for how he spent his life. The experience is said to be as mortifying and humiliating as when Yosef revealed himself to his brothers.

The dramatic way the story unfolds is instructive.

Yosef planted stolen property on Binyamin and imprisoned him, to determine if his brothers had changed over the years. Yehuda stepped forward to persuade their captor with a heart-rending plea on behalf of their old father, that to return home without his youngest son would be the death of him. Yehuda begged him that out of mercy to their elderly father, he would release Binyamin.

Seeing how they would stick up for each other, Yosef knew that things were different. This was the moment to reveal his true identity:

וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי וְלֹא יָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו – Yosef said to his brothers, “It is I, Yosef. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer because they were so shocked.

His brothers were talking about their obviously living father moments ago. What was his question?

The Beis Halevi explains that this was rhetoric picking up on their new found concern for their poor old father. This completely ironic question is heartrending. “Is he not my father too? Didn’t you think of his pain then? Is he only alive to you now that you are the victim?”

With such a turn of events, of course were shocked into silence. Not just because of the surprise, but because he was completely correct. They were hypocrites!

Yet what happens next shows the calibre of the men this story is about. Without a hint of malice, he simply embraced them all.

This is what the Midrash is about.

It is worth noting that until the point he revealed himself, Yosef was a threat, and they were dangerous too. Shimon and Levi were known killers!  Yosef sent out all his staff, risking his life, rather than humiliate them any more than necessary,

The story is a paradigm for how to mend a broken relationship. It is comprehensive but concise when delivered, and accepted when received.

We all have relationship struggles for far less. Whichcould be mended with a few well chosen words?